Hong Kong’s landmark decision to LGBT expats puts pressure on Japan and Singapore

Same sex couples in civil partnerships will now be eligible for spousal visas in Hong Kong after the Court of Final Appeal decided in favour of the LGBT expat community.

The top court’s landmark decision puts Asia’s premier financial hub at the forefront of the nascent movement for gay rights in Asia in a first move that might change the landscape. The judgement will help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups into pressuring Singapore and Japan to change their policies as the global financial hubs fight to attract business and talent.

Japan’s ruling party issued a policy document in 2016 where it stated that embracing diversity didn’t mean denying the difference between genders, and it wasn’t necessarily in favour of allowing people of the same gender to wed.

In Singapore, the government still has a colonial-era sodomy law and, last year, banned foreigners from attending the nation’s annual Pink Dot Rally in support of gay rights.

Japan and Singapore don’t grant same-sex spousal visas. For financial firms in those countries, the Hong Kong decision could make it tougher to hire expatriates.

‘Long battle’

A British woman, known as QT, was denied a spousal visa after her partner, a dual British and South African national, was offered work in Hong Kong in 2011. This meant QT would need a separate visa to gain resident status and the permission to work.

Hong Kong’s Immigration Department would only grant QT a tourist visa, as same-sex unions are not recognised under the special administrative region’s legal system.

After various legal twists and turns, she won in the Court of Appeal by unanimous decision in September 2017.

The Hong Kong court argued that the immigration department’s policy of encouraging workers to come to the city ran counter to its refusal to grant dependent visas for employees with same-sex spouses.

In a statement, QT expressed her joy at being treated equally by the Hong Kong government after a “long battle.”

Pedro Gonçalves
Pedro Gonçalves is Financial Correspondent at International Investment.

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